Life Post-Kamenev: Where Do The Admirals Go Next?

(Photo Credit: Sam Iannamico)

If you’re a fan of the Milwaukee Admirals you had a double-dose of bad times yesterday. The Admirals, for whatever the reasons might be, still can’t solve the Grand Rapids Griffins or finding ways to win in the Van Andel Arena. The moment that the Admirals blew a third period lead and lost 2-1 the secondary blow came as the Nashville Predators made a trade that involved Vladislav Kamenev, Samuel Girard, and a second round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Admirals fans aren’t going to see Kyle Turris. There are no additional pieces entering the mix to replace the production of Kamenev or future work by Girard on defense. That is life in the AHL. Players arrive. Players leave. And, when they leave, the season continues and it’s on the coaching staff and remaining players to fill the gaps created by a parent club.

It stings now. It might take some time to work through new roles. But where there is a vacancy in a role as big as Kamenev was contributing in there are players getting the chance to fight for and contribute that much more than they already were.

(Photo Credit: Christina Shapiro)

With Kamenev now out of the picture there is a giant and reliable fixture at center gone for the Admirals. There are no “true” first, second, third, or fourth lines with the Admirals but Kamenev had been consistently in the upper-half this season with work by lines centered by Trevor Smith or Emil Pettersson circling for the team’s top line. Pettersson has had a terrific start in his first pro season in North America. Meanwhile, the Admirals team captain Smith has had his start to 2017-18 hindered by injuries and has already missed four-games due to injury including being on the shelf at the time this trade has taken place. With his absence came the return of Cody Bass who had been out with injury for six-games. Yet, the veteran Bass wasn’t utilized this weekend as a center upon his return – Justin Kirkland was. It’s here where the scrambling for who goes where begins. And, with Smith or Bass out for any length of time, things become a crap shoot as far as how the Admirals organize their forward group.

Kirkland’s more natural position is on the wing but in his last season of major juniors with the Kelowna Rockets (WHL) injuries on the roster put him down the middle as a center. He produced his best season of junior hockey in that role scoring 67 points (31 goals, 36 assists) in 69 games across the 2015-16 season including 15 points (11 goals, 4 assists) in 18 games during the WHL Playoffs. It appeared he would start out as a center option with the Admirals last season but he had mixed to underwhelming results in the role. He started to play his best hockey on the wing alongside Adam Payerl – while being centered by Kamenev.

Yakov Trenin has been filling in mosty on the lower line formations of the Admirals this season and has been a consistent plug-in at center rather than on the wing. He can and has played in both roles during his time in major juniors for Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL). To this point, he still seems to be steadily approaching the pro game. Admirals fans can nearly take for granted the fact Trenin has participated in the team’s last two playoff appearances as he’d come out of his junior season. He did get 5 games in at the end of the 2016-17 season ahead of the playoffs. But the fact is he is still very much in the motions of learning the pro game.

(Photo Credit: Shane Abbitt)

The return of Bass for the Admirals it would seem really couldn’t have come at a better time. No, he isn’t someone who could provide the Admirals the level of offense that Kamenev could but his face-off ability, hard working attitude, and leadership skills make those around him better. If he needs to be plugged in as a center for any length of time it would be a help for the team. The only problem is it would need to be on more of a grinding, thrash-and-bash, checking line role. Bass hasn’t produced 20 points or more in his professional playing career and his best offensive season as a pro came back in 2013-14 as a member of the Springfield Falcons: 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists in 58 games. He can win face-offs and help on the power-play in that respect, be a net front presence, and contribute in that sense – but it’s an ask to rely on that for offense. In fact, it might be an ask for him to have a clean bill of health from now until the end of the regular season the way that the past eleven months are concerned. Should Bass stay healthy though it is still essential that he sticks towards his strengths. Bass works best in a more defensive minded role where he can go into the dirty areas of the ice, battle for pucks, and distribute to some of the higher level skill players that are around him. He could pull off the job – it’s just going to require the right linemates that can act as more creative outlets around him.

This is where I’m very interested to see if the Admirals decide to actually place Tyler Moy into the center role that he did operate in at Harvard. Since arriving to the AHL scene at the end of the 2016-17 season the Admirals have put Moy in a wing role. He’s done rather well but, similar to Trenin, he’s in his first full season as a pro and it’s clear he is slowly taking everything in stride. The Admirals have used bigger bodied guys like Trenin and Kirkland as center options but what about a guy in Moy that has that little bit more giddy-up to his game with skill? It’s worth testing the waters and, if nothing else, cycling him alongside someone such as Bass so you have choices within a single line all while having a good teacher in Bass to help a first-year talent grow. Moy has 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) in 9 games so far this season. If there is a forward with the explosive and dynamic offensive ability to his game that could step up post-Kamenev – it’s Moy.

(Photo Credit: Shane Abbitt)

But who really takes the mantle right now with no Kamenev and an injured Smith? Easy. It’s Pettersson. Things have felt seamless for the 23-year old Swede since making the leap to North America. In fact, there are a lot of similarities to the way that he plays the game as Kamenev does. Both have great vision to create plays. Both pass very well. Both can work on the power-play and penalty kill. And Pettersson has actually had preference over Kamenev to the Admirals top power-play unit on the right wing circle for one-timers and setting up teammates. He remains the Admirals top scorer at the moment with 11 points (4 goals, 7 assists) in 10 games. The next closest to him on the Admirals scoring leaderboard was Kamenev with 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists) in the same number of games played. So, what then can Petterson do if afforded that much more wiggle room to keep motoring throughout a game in the role of Kamenev? I believe we’re all about to find out because that is the prime candidate to take over Kamenev’s role while vacating his own and letting those mentioned above work out the rest. Pettersson, to me, is a sleeper candidate for an NHL opportunity this season with the Predators. He already has looked that good. When he gets a greenlight such as this to go that much more – it will either see to it that he does that -or- freezes up that little bit under increased scrutiny against top defensive match-ups on the other side of the puck.

Yes, names such as Eeli Tolvanen or Victor Ejdsell is fun to throw around but the team that is here now is the team. Tolvanen hasn’t signed an entry level contract with the Predators yet. Even if he has it opens up the debate for whether or not it is best for him to continue playing at the ridiculous pace he has been in the KHL with Jokerit or to start his development process in the AHL. This is a Finn who played the past two seasons in North America’s USHL for the Sioux City Musketeers. He understands the North American game. Allowing him to work hard in the KHL is a good thing for right now. And the same could pretty much be said for Ejdsell.

(Photo Credit: Jamie Wahl)

The Mountainous Swede burst onto the scene a season ago when he was named the 2016-17 MVP of the Allsvenskan by scoring 57 points (25 goals, 32 assists) in 50 games with BIK Karlskoga. It’s what put him on the Predators radar and had them sign him to a two-year entry level contract. The problem is it was his first true boom on a professional stage and that professional stage, the Allsvenskan, is the second tier of Swedish hockey. He had played 21 games in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) prior to that with Färjestad BK and only managed to score 2 points (2 goal, 0 assists). After signing his entry-level contract he went to HV71 where he could play again in the SHL and test whether or not last season was some sort of a fluke. He’s looking great early in the 2017-18 season: 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists) in 15 games. Last season wasn’t a fluke. Ejdsell is looking good for HV71. The issue here is: why disrupt a highly important developmental season for him with HV71 in the SHL while burning up a year off of his entry-level contract by having him make the leap right now as a panic move to fill a role left with Kamenev? The rush to do that isn’t necessary and it isn’t exactly a positive for anyone. Both Tolvanen and Ejdsell should see out their 2017-18 efforts in Europe, playing at a high level, and continuing to evolve their games.

The next step for the Admirals sounds a lot easier said than done. They need to focus on there here and now, worry about those within their locker room, and prepare for a 10:30 AM CST face-off against the Chicago Wolves at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena on Wednesday. Kamenev isn’t there but the Wolves and an awful lot of extremely loud school kids will be. The Admirals are going to need to elevate their offense by way of being sound defensively and well organized in attack. The pieces lost aren’t being replaced by something they will ever see. You can’t simply hope for a Frédérick Gaudreau reassignment from the Predators that will last the season. The Admirals need to rally together as a team and grow as individuals. It starts Wednesday. And it will need to get more and more consistent until the season comes to an end.

Who becomes the most crucial offensive players for the Milwaukee Admirals following the Vladislav Kamenev trade? Should any of the veteran forwards go down for further lengths of time do you think the current ECHL depth, Trevor Mingoia and Angelo Miceli, are enough?

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